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 Post subject: Talking animal research?
PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2012 3:38 am 
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It is very hard to find information on research done on animals regarding communication methods employed by wild animals. I am most interested in verbal communication due to the possible complexity of the language due to the use of abstract concepts as meanings. I know that two rodents have been studied in the past (Richardson Ground Squirrel and Gunnison Prairie Dog) and some marine mammals (dolphin and whale) and greater apes (chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan). I heard of new research on coruro (a mole-like South American rodent) and a species of meerkat. Has anyone heard of any other language research on other species or even more information on the above-mentioned research?

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 12:33 am 
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Hi Ann:

There is a lot of research on animal communication in the sense of communicating with conspecifics; this is not the case with interspecies communication because this would mean animals having the ability to grasp the principles of human language, and as for the reverse, it takes great dedication to understand an animal's communications (with its conspecifics, let alone whether it may want or need to communicate with us). The latter, I think, is most successful with domesticated species - not only have they come to rely on us, but we (at least until recently, in modern Western society) relied on them. A great example of such an animal communicator, I think, is Temple Grandin. Others are some of the best animal trainers and husbandry personnel, call them "horse whisperers" or whatever; what these men and women have is an ability to read the cues animals give about themselves, and who know how to get across to an animal what the human wants. Note, however, that while such humans can often "read" an animal quickly, the animal may not do so as fast, and need to learn by repeated trial and error what it asked of it. The best animal trainers and educators rely very much on animal learning theory; a very good example of this is Andrew McLean, who is revolutionising horse training, and has extended his methods to other species such as working elephants. Note though that communication often is "non-verbal", and though body language and overt behaviour. While our domesticated animals can learn to understand human words (commands), again, such commands usually cannot be embedded in a sentence but need to be given in a clear voice, preferably calling the animal by name first if they are not already attending to the human. Even so, grasp of verbal command is limited, even in dogs - with prolonged training, a dog may learn some sixty "pure" (no added body language) commands; however, dogs, and also horses, are very good at picking up on human body language, as the classical story of "Clever Hans", the horse that could do arithmetic, shows. And some dogs are very good with names - there are several studies now of dogs that learned the names of hundreds of objects, and could retrieve them (look for studies by Kaminski), and not only that, but could pick out pictures of an object, or a smaller version of it (something only chimpanzees were thought capable of) - which brings me to the ape language experiments which while impressive (at least where apes use symbols for words, not sign language which is too iffy and open to interpretation), still have not a patch on human language development. It has taken apes years to learn a few hundred symbols/words - a toddler does that at lightning speed compared to apes. Humans have a true talking brain, even if some linguistic principles are shared with other species (surprisingly perhaps, more with some song birds than with apes). Bu there are interesting studies on within species communication, for instance, of monkeys in Africa that have "words" for different types of danger (from above or on the ground) but then again, so have chickens. But recent work suggest that monkeys also may convey the potential of a threat ("I thawed I thaw a puddy tat"); moreover, the nature of the voices tells about sex and dominance, and also which individual. In short, when you ask: Can humans communicate with animals? my answer wouild be yes; and vice versa. But can humans talk (literally) to animals, the answer would be negative. Can animals communicate with one another? Clearly so, but if vocal, it is mostly single signals (predator! I live here! I am a big male), not complicated concepts. I'll chase up some reading if you like.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:46 am 
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Thank you Cobie for some of those names to check out. A little background on my interest in animal communication: I met a man who had brain damage that caused him to be unable to form words with his mouth. He could still write what he wanted to say and he was very intelligent and funny (entertaining and great improvised jokes). His mouth was also perfectly fine and he could make all the sounds of words but something was broken between the words he could write down and the part of the brain that controls his lips. This told me that if an animal species has no specific need for complex sounds, the brain will lack the mechanisms to do so. They tried teaching a chimpanzee to talk verbally and she could vocalize a few words but was very frustrated trying to communicate the words she knew the meaning of but could not form the words with her lips. I decided that the only animals that can be trained to communicate verbally will be those that do so already. This cannot just be single-sound sentences either but rather combinations of sounds that can be adjusted to change elements of the meaning. Animals with the following three conditions may have a chance: active in the daytime with long range vision, live in holes in relatively flat land, and live in communities for protection from predators. These conditions provide the situation where a predator is invading the community and the animals must react appropriately but without leaving their holes (unless it is a snake or ferret) or else they will be eaten or dug up. This communication needs to portray species (nouns), location (adjectives), actions (verbs), intent (adverbs). It turns out that the first two rodents tested for complex verbal language also have words for color and size (more adjectives), and direction based on wind or on sun (birds attack from the sun and land animals attack upwind). Both of these species use sound differences in the ultrasonic range, compact the information in a short burst of sound, and do not use vowels-consonants like human languages usually do. This makes the detection of such language not obvious without experimentation and the use of computers with audio diagnosis software. There are many more species with those three conditions (diurnal, communal, fossorial) and the five mentioned non-primate land animals fit that (Richardson Ground Squirrels, Gunnison Prairie Dogs, meerkats, coruro, degus). This is where my efforts will be concentrated but I am open to other animals. Recently, male laboratory mice have been discovered to sing complex ballads much like song birds... but in the ultrasonic range. It remains to be seen if there is any meaning to these ballads but the mouse does have the brain mechanisms in place to make tunes and repeat these tunes accurately. Making a frequency-based language might work... but there would not necessarily be the parts of the brain needed to form meaning into sentences like the diurnal communal fossorial animals seem to be able to develop... but I would not know without trying.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 5:24 am 
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 6:27 am 
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 7:24 am 
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 10, 2012 6:50 pm 
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Hello Ann:

Sorry about the silence but here Down Under the academic year ends with the calendar year so we are engaged in mopping up activities, so to speak.... but I just got notice of an excellent review article on animal communication. I hope you can get access to it otherwise maybe I can e-mail you a PDF of it? Here it is:

Functionally Referential Communication in Mammals: The Past, Present and the Future

Simon W. Townsend*,
Marta B. Manser

Ethology

Volume 119, Issue 1, pages 1–11, January 2013

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... 5/abstract

Whether animal vocalizations have the potential to communicate information regarding ongoing external events or objects has received considerable attention over the last four decades. Such ‘functionally referential signals’ (Macedonia & Evans 1993) have been shown to occur in a range of mammals and bird species and as a consequence have helped us understand the complexities that underlie animal communication, particularly how animals process and perceive their socio-ecological worlds. Here, we review the existing evidence for functionally referential signals in mammals according to the framework put forward in the seminal Macedonia and Evans review paper. Furthermore, we elucidate the ambiguities regarding the functionally referential framework that have become obvious over the last years. Finally, we highlight new potential areas for investigation within referential signalling. We conclude the functionally referential framework is still informative when interpreting the meaning of animal vocalizations but, based on emerging research, requires further integration with other approaches investigating animal vocal complexity to broaden its applicability.

Cobie


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 12, 2012 12:11 am 
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